Dr. Robert Jarvik, inventor of the artificial heart that bears his name, is taking heat for promoting Lipitor in TV ads. It was a story on Good Morning America and in the New York Times this morning and on our newscast here in Connecticut tonight.
There are a few problems with Jarvik’s TV spots. Though a degreed physician, he has never practiced medicine or is even licensed to practice.
His recommendation might be from the goodness of his heart, but the fact he earns well over $1,000,000 from Pfizer, Lipitor’s hard to spell manufacturer, makes it suspect at best.
Then there’s the Robert Jarvik we see in the ads. Dr. Jarvik is in his early 60s. He is shown, out alone, rowing a racing scull. It’s not really him. It’s a more physically fit body double!
I have a vested interest in this whole affair. I take Lipitor every day. My dad had heart disease and I’m hoping to minimize my risk through chemistry.
I don’t want to think it’s being sold like a burger at McDonalds or new car. This is, after all, medicine. It should be sold because it works best, not because it’s immensely profitable.
Lipitor aside, I don’t like seeing prescription drugs marketed directly to consumers. I don’t need to hear about oily discharge or erections lasting longer than four hours.
I spoke with my friend/physician Steve last night. He doesn’t like this either… but we’re too late. I can’t imagine turning back the clock on this recent form of consumer commerce.
Thinking about Dr. Jarvik and this story reminded me of something I’d heard years ago. I went online to check it out.
Dr. Jarvik owes much of the success of his artificial heart to the work of a medical trailblazer – Paul Winchell.
In case you’re too young (and seemingly, everyone is nowadays), Paul Winchell was a ventriloquist. With his characters Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff, “Winch” was a staple of 50s and 60s TV.
He was also the voice of about a gazillion cartoon characters, including Tigger in Winnie the Pooh.
I thought it was OK for Paul Winchell to pitch Tootsie Rolls while I was growing up. I don’t feel the same way about Jarvik’s pitch now that I am grown up.